By Corey Andrick
Submitted by Evan Benton
Written and directed by Mike Leigh
David Thewlis, Lesley Sharp, and Katrin Cartlidge
“You can’t make an omelet without cracking a few eggs. And humanity is just a cracked egg. And the omelet stinks”
Few films carry the capability to deliver such a caustic slap in the face as Mike Leigh’s Naked. His first foray into the rotten depths of the human psyche, and perhaps his most powerful, the film opens with a brutal act of sexual violence that sends intellectual ne’er-do-well Johnny (Thewlis) fleeing for his life from his hometown of Manchester to the unfamiliarity of London. There he meets a woman from his past (Sharp), who lives with another woman (whom she hardly knows) in a borrowed flat. She greets him readily enough, even though his philosophical quips obviously set her on edge and his demeanor is that of a complete and utter nihilist.
After a sloppy and short-lived affair with her roommate (Cartlidge), Johnny leaves once again to wander the desolate and filthy back alleys of London, meeting many colorful people along the way, including a young Ewen Bremner as a psychotic Scots vagrant and Peter Wight as a lonely night security guard, and damning all of them to hell with a pasty grin on his face and a cigarette between his lips. The darkness of Leigh’s vision is only exacerbated by bleak shots of aging buildings and overcast skies and a heavy orchestral soundtrack that lends a feeling of edginess to the already tense timbre of the film.
As Johnny continues to drift helplessly from street corner to street corner he engages anyone he can in deep existential conversation, glorifying the absurdity of life and criticizing anyone who moves to challenge him. As the story comes to a raging crescendo, it becomes evident that Johnny must struggle for his life in contradiction to his overwhelmingly depressing mindset, or die alone in the gutter.
Naked was well received by nearly all critics, with a few criticisms, mostly due to the interpretation of Johnny’s lifestyle and actions as misogynistic, although it is evident that his behavior is largely an indictment of the human race, as opposed to a barrage against the fairer sex. Mike Leigh’s writing was praised, although most of the script was improvised by the actors (under Leigh’s direction) in the weeks before filming and later written down, with Leigh having pushed them to typify their characters in exquisite detail.
The film is almost perfect mostly due to the fact that Thewlis plays the part so convincingly that I often found myself forgetting that Johnny was an element of Leigh’s imagination. The cinematography as well as the stellar soundtrack make this film one of Mike Leigh’s best, certainly his most atmospheric. There is a strange and forlorn beauty in the story, although it is often easy to miss among the savage dialogue. Nevertheless this is a shining example of what cinema should be as opposed to the poorly written, two dimensional “movies” that are so common these days.
If you do anything this week, watch Mike Leigh’s Naked, reflect on some of the magnanimous questions posed in the film, rejoice in the brilliantly written dialogue and prepare to be floored by some excellent performances. With Johnny railing against all of humankind, feverishly at times, the film accomplishes something that cinema has certainly been lacking lately. It plunges the viewer into a sinister realm of blackened ethos and lonesome cityscapes that may seem unnervingly familiar, and inquires as to the functionality of human beings as the rulers of a world that may not want them.
Mike Leigh’s Naked presents an honest if not derisive portrait of human nature that any member of the species can relate to and dredges up a genuine emotive reaction in a day when cinematic elegance is almost extinct.
Images courtesy of collider.com